Bill Clinton’s emotional birthday celebration

Vera H-C Chan
Senior Editor, Special Projects
The Difference

Former President Bill Clinton was a little worried about his ticker during Lady Gaga's number — and it wasn't because the blonde-bewigged singer tossed out the occasional curse word during a live-streaming concert celebrating his foundation's 10th anniversary.

The former president admitted he'd received advance warning that Lady Gaga was planning what she called her "Marilyn moment," and he was nervous about what the queen of shocking moments had up her sleeve. He shared his panic moment with the crowd packed in the Hollywood Bowl, telling the audience his big fear: "I will have a heart attack for my 65th birthday."

His onstage moment came two-thirds of the way through A Decade of Difference, the celebrity-studded concert honoring Clinton's 65th birthday and his foundation's 10th anniversary. Throughout the night, he was choked up by the tribute: The cameras caught him teary-eyed at various moments, starting with Stevie Wonder's opening number, "Sir Duke," when journalist Laura Ling credited him for rescuing her from North Korea (she named her daughter, Li Jefferson Clayton, after him), and during Somalian-Canadian rap artist K'naan's appreciation in performing before the man who tried to help his war-torn country years earlier.

By the time he came out to praise the concert organizers, the performers, and his family, however, the former president had recovered his trademark enthusiasm. "How cool is it to be 65 and you get Lady Gaga?" he gushed, later adding, "I am the only person in history who got to be president and who had a post-presidential party attended both by Lady Gaga and the Secretary of State." Clinton then thanked his wife Hillary who, he said, "was already doing [charitable] works like this" when they met 40 years ago. "She was a nongovernmental organization all to herself."

Besides a celebration, the concert was also a fundraiser for the William J. Clinton Foundation and called attention to various endeavors, including helping AIDS orphans in Cambodia, malaria-stricken populations in Africa, and earthquake victims of Haiti. The president did sound a pointed but familiar political note. "I have had the most unusual life," he said. "I was born after World War II in the second-poorest state in the country, and in a family that never had a college graduate ... I never believed I was born in a log cabin I built myself. Nobody climbs a ladder alone ... and we are never going to bring this country back by saying they do it alone."